Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Budget Process Kicks Off On Wednesday

Virtual hearing Wednesday, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Mayor will outline city's financial situation.

By - Aug 24th, 2020 04:16 pm
Cash. (CC0 Creative Commons).

Cash. (CC0 Creative Commons).

Milwaukee’s 2021 budget process, poised to be the most challenging in at least a decade, will get formally underway Wednesday evening.

Mayor Tom Barrett, budget director Dennis Yaccarino and Common Council Finance & Personnel Committee chair Michael Murphy will host a preliminary budget hearing from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Barrett, who delivered a 45-minute presentation last year, seems ready to repeat some of his major points from 2019.

“The City’s finances remain challenged by state laws restricting funding of local government to primarily property taxes,” said the mayor in a press release. “Funding the priorities of our residents, no matter what they are, requires a new revenue source like the proposed one percent local sales tax.”

Four factors are combining to put city officials in an increasingly difficult place: the rising costs of public safety, a quickly growing need to fund the city’s pension system, state restrictions on raising revenue and declining revenue sharing from the state.

The city faces a $52.7 million structural deficit in its 2021 budget when factoring in department requests and estimated revenues.

There will be one notable change from last year – the meeting will be entirely virtual. Instead of a packed room at the Zeidler Municipal Building, the meeting will take place via the city’s television channel and online streams. Community members will be allowed to ask questions by registering in advance.

The hearing will not include line item details for the $1.6 billion budget. That will come in late September when Barrett delivers an executive budget to the Common Council. Wednesday’s hearing is intended to provide information on the city’s finances and what factors are shaping the budget.

In addition to its preexisting budget challenges, the city faces challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Revenue from fees, including parking, is down by millions of dollars in 2020.

One thing Barrett is likely to touch on is the amount of funding that goes to the Milwaukee Police Department. “Beginning in 2016 the budget for the Milwaukee Police Department exceeded the property tax levy for the city,” said Barrett at the preliminary hearing in 2019. “This creates an impossible mathematical situation.” Despite an increase in assessed values for many property owners, that situation will remain in 2021 unless the department’s budget is cut.

The Common Council passed a request for a model of a 10 percent reallocation of the Milwaukee Police Department’s approximately $300 million budget in June with a 30-day deadline, but that model has yet to be submitted to the council.

The council is scheduled to spend October reviewing the executive budget, with amendments and a final budget being adopted in November. Barrett retains the right to veto provisions of the budget, but can be overruled by a two-thirds council vote.

Residents are encouraged to submit responses to a budget survey and use an interactive budget simulation tool to voice their opinions on budget priorities and indicate how they would close the budget gap.

You can view Barrett’s 2019 preliminary budget hearing presentation on Urban Milwaukee. For more on the 2020 budget, see our coverage from last year.

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Categories: City Hall, Politics

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